Southend United U18s were defeated for just the second time in the last seven matches as they slipped to a 4-1 reverse against Stevenage on Saturday morning.
Danny Heath’s side face Cambridge United at Roots Hall in the First Round of The FA Youth Cup on Thursday, and they go into the game looking to bounce straight back after goals from Luis Fernandez, Joe Leslie, Liam Smyth and Bugyei-Kyei – the last two in stoppage time – inflicted a reverse on the teenage Shrimpers.
Blues were unchanged from the team that had beaten Cambridge in the league the previous weekend, with Demaray Anyadike again preferred to second-year scholar Freddy Eastwood on the right-hand side of midfield.
At a blustery Bragbury End training ground, it was the hosts that made the more impressive start. Liam Smyth fired narrowly wide of the left-hand upright in the third minute, but four minutes later it was Blues that almost opened the scoring as Bobby Unwin hit the woodwork. Tommy Lambourne touched the ball outside to the winger, who smashed a ferocious strike against the top of the crossbar.
Smyth prodded a left-wing free-kick into the side-netting after a quarter-of-an-hour, and on 18 minutes it took good tracking back from Anyadike to tackle Fernandez and win the ball. Stevenage took the lead midway through the opening half when Leslie’s right-wing corner was thumped into the top right-hand corner of the net by Fernandez.
Leslie could have immediately added to the advantage, but he dragged an effort wide of the left-hand upright, and Blues slowly began to fight back. Aitken in the home goal made a smart save to deny Oli Coker from a free-kick on 28 minutes, and shortly afterwards the visitors equalised.
The goal came at the end of a superb sweeping move from inside Blues own half. Ahmet Biler side-stepped a tackle on the left-hand side and passed inside to Lambourne. He immediately moved the ball on to Unwin, who galloped down the flank. His centre was met by Coker, and although his initial effort was charged down, Brown was on hand to lift his shot into the roof of the net from ten yards out.
That should have been the signal for Southend to press on but, with five minutes remaining in the first half, they fell behind for a second time. Leslie was allowed too much time to get his shot away on the right-hand side of the penalty area, and he angled his finish across Callum Taylor and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Blues looked to respond again, and Lambourne saw an effort deflected wide from Biler’s left-wing cross before Unwin smashed over in first-half injury time. Blues also started the second period brightly, although Taylor was called upon to excellently turn Smyth’s strike around the right-hand post.
The match swung from end-to-end, with both teams enjoying opportunities to score. Alfie Williams clattered the woodwork for the hosts in the 57th minute when his strike clipped the left-hand post, but Southend went even closer on the hour mark when Lambourne centred for Anyadike and he was denied at point-blank range by Aitken.
Ten minutes later the Stevenage shotstopper repelled another close-range effort as Unwin stabbed a Coker free-kick towards goal, but Blues were fortunate to remain in touch as Smyth then directed a shot from 15 yards out against the right-hand post in the opposite penalty area.
On 72 minutes, Taylor was called upon to make a superb stop with his outstretched right boot to thwart Smyth once again, with Reiss Chandler having initially done well to distract the forward, but the Blues back-line was beginning to creak and Wallace did well to cut out a right-wing cross before combining with Taylor to block another forward.
The central defender was on hand yet again in the 83rd minute to extend a telescopic leg and win the ball back from an attacker, but Southend were undeterred from their task and tried to take the game to Stevenage in the closing stages.
Eastwood, by this time on as a second-half substitute, combined with Coker, who fired wastefully over, with six minutes remaining, and there was a chance for someone to get on the end of a skidding set-piece from Unwin shortly afterwards, but no-one gambled on meeting the delivery.
Heath sent on Adeooja to replace Biler in an attacking substitution, and in the final minute of the regulation 90 the schoolboy was threaded clear by Lambourne. The forward was presented with an excellent opportunity to level, but out of nowhere Fernandez arrived to deflect his shot out for a corner.
Play immediately switched to the opposite end of the pitch, where Stevenage made the match safe. Williams sent a cross over to Smyth at the far post, and he dinked the ball over Taylor to make it 3-1. Then, in the fourth minute of stoppage time it was 4-1 as Smyth squared to Bugyei-Kyei, who tapped from close range.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler (Harrison Kayden, 84), Ahmet Biler (Adetayo Adeooja, 87), Sam Brogan, Jimmy Wallace, Tommy Davis (Ergis Shala, 73), Demaray Anyadike (Freddy Eastwood, 61), Cameron Brown, Tommy Lambourne, Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin. Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Brown (35).
Cautioned: Chandler (16, delaying the restart of play).